Interview with Marc Barnes – BadCatholic, Buffoonery, Beauty, and Books

Today I have the supreme pleasure of interviewing Marc Barnes. Known online as the BadCatholic, Marc is one of the best Catholic writers today. He’s incredibly prolific, writing on everything from the lunacy of the HHS mandate, to the bad idea of contraception, to praying badly. Yet his Chestertonian wit and Tolkienian wonder belie his youth: he’s only 18.

If you haven’t read BadCatholic, stop what you’re doing right now and subscribe via RSS or Facebook. Then, once you’ve done that, sit back and enjoy our interview!

Q: Chesterton popped paradoxes well into his sixties. Tolkien was 62 when he finished The Lord of the Rings. Your writing has drawn comparisons to both men, yet jaws drop when people discover that you’re only 18. How has your age been a blessing and a curse?

My age allows me to address topics in a way that the EWTN world refuses to. It allows me to manipulate powers unfairly granted to teenagers and denied to adults—sarcasm, exaggeration, provocation, and, above all, humor. The virtue of humor is that which will make a man listen, no matter how much he disagrees. (The only time you’re given the license to call another man’s mother fat is when you can make him laugh while doing it.)

Laughter is the great disarmer. No man will listen to you telling him that contraception is sinful, but if it comes as a joke, his heart will be more open to the fact than a year of preaching could ever achieve. The end result of using this style is that I don’t really have to moderate myself; I’m given the leeway to write as I actually think as a teenager.

Which is the problem. Being 18, I fall to valuing style over content and cheap humor over real philosophy. I make wide assumptions, crude caricatures, and I have a general lack of sensitivity to the complexity of my readers.

Plus there’s the fact that—and this has more to do with character than age—I’m a hypocrite. Writing is easy, living is hard, and I haven’t written a post yet without a twinge of self-ridicule: “Yeah, you tell those people to develop a strong prayer life, to stop sinning, to transform lust into love, and to live out the call of Christ. Just keep telling ’em.”

Also, I suppress an average of six curse words per blog post. And being 18 allows my critics/opponents/flaming heretics an easy way out of an actual argument—”Oh, but he’s young: he’ll learn the truth about life when he’s older.”

Q: Many people, me included, have likened your style to everyone from Chesterton to Tolkien, Flannery O’Conner to Walker Percy. Can you talk about how these and others have influenced your writing?

Such comparisons are well-intentioned insults to great writers. I do not know whether their influence comes across in my work—after all, it takes an onlooker to tell you that you have your mother’s eyes—but I do know they’ve moved my writing away from pretentious disaster. A more fitting way to say “Mr. Barnes sounds like Mr. Chesterton” would be “Mr. Chesterton prevents Mr. Barnes from sounding like crap.” But I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from each you’ve mentioned.

Walker Percy taught me that you just as easily prove God’s existence by showing those who fail to live up to his commands as showing those who don’t. He demands that I be comfortable living in the ruins (the world’s gone all to hell, but I will not be saddened) and he introduced me to the existentialism of Kierkegaard, for which I simultaneously hate and love him.

Ms. O’Connor taught me that sometimes putting it grotesquely is putting it best.

Chesterton taught me that if you’re not having a fantastic time arguing, debating, thinking and writing, you should be doing something else. And not to fear paradox. And he made me Catholic.

Tolkien taught me that being Catholic is a battle and a romance.

Q: On your blog, you write a lot on what John Allen Jr. calls ‘the pelvic issues’–abortion, contraception, marriage, and pornography. How can Catholics battle the so-called ‘culture of death’, which stands against true life and love?

Catholics are in the remarkable situation of being the only group of people with the desire to separate sex—in all its transcendent beauty—from the murder of infants, the sterilization of our brothers and sisters, the utter objectification of men and women, and the freaky-weird passion with which the world wants to get involved with everyone’s sex lives.

This makes Catholics awesome. We are promoting the good—that sex is sexy—while the world promotes the bad. We stand for the positive argument—that babies deserve life—and not the negative—that sometimes things are so tough you just have to murder. The moment we get negative or defensive is the moment we’ve lost the battle. For why on Earth should a man defending Goodness, Truth and Beauty be anything but shining, affirmative and joyful?

Q: Another favorite topic of yours is Beauty. Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said that “beauty will save the world.” Why is beauty so important and how can we harness its power?

It’s very simple, actually. There are three Transcendentals, three infinite goals that man naturally strives for. He strives for Goodness (that which he should obey), Truth (that which he should believe), and Beauty (that which he should admire.)

To the Christian worldview, these three Transcendentals, in their perfection, are God Himself. God is goodness, truth and beauty. (This, by the way, implies that goodness=truth=beauty (Keats was right!) but I digress.)

In their imperfect form—that is, in all man’s pitiful attempts to be Good, to know Truth, and to reach Beauty—God is pointed to. They are each images of God. Now our culture got rid of the Good with the introduction of moral relativism—it has been limited to the self, to the I Am The Arbiter of My Own Morality. It got rid of Truth with the public school system—my truth is not your truth, and I promise that statement is true. So we’re left with Beauty as the our last hope to avoid damning ourselves to a delightfully vague and relative Hell.

Beauty, though many deny it, still strikes man rudely and objectively. Beauty has the flavor of dogma. Beauty will save the world, because it’s the last Objective Infinite we admit to, and thus the last icon pointing to God.

Q: As a fellow book lover, what would you recommend as your top three must-read books?

Actually, Brandon, the one you sent me, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson, was absolutely excellent. Then Lancelot by Walker Percy, then Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.

But you must know I thought of 17 more to tell everyone about, like John C. Wright’s Golden Age Trilogy. And The Diary of a Country Priest by Bernanos.

Q: Last question: Suppose the Pope invites you to St. Peter’s Basilica. He ushers you to the central balcony, and gives you one minute to address the watching world. What do you say?

First, “Let’s hear it for the guy before me!”

and then:

“Write this down!”

and then:

“Alright everyone, we’re gonna pray that I get to Heaven! Ready? Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, etc.”

and then:



For more imaginative brilliance, be sure to follow Marc through his BadCatholic blog at Patheos. There you’ll find articles like The Glory of Being Shut Up, Priests and Pokemon, and On Being Made for Infinity. You can also connect with Marc on Facebook and Twitter.

If you liked this interview, check out my other discussions with people like Fr. Robert Barron, Christopher West, Bishop Christopher Coyne, Dr. Michael Barber, and Lisa Hendey.

And be sure you don’t miss future interviews by subscribing to The Thin Veil via RSS or email.

What do you think about Marc’s writing? What’s your favorite BadCatholic post?

(Image Credit: Session Magazine)